Pinot Noir from Two Hemispheres

One of my favorite events each year is World of Pinot Noir. As someone who loves Pinot Noir, it is quite wonderful to spend a weekend in Santa Barbara drinking only Pinot Noir! At this year’s World of Pinot Noir, I attended a seminar featuring two producers, Brewer Clifton and Giant Steps. One producer is in the Sta. Rita Hills in the Santa Ynez Valley and the other is in the Yarra Valley in Australia. I thought it was an odd combination of producers until I sat down, listened to winemaker Greg Brewer, and tasted the wines. There was a connection as I wrote about for the Napa Valley Register and share here.

Pinot Noir from Two Hemispheres

Ah, Pinot Noir, the fickle grape that makes many people swoon.

For more than 20 years, World of Pinot Noir has brought together winemakers and wine enthusiasts who share a common love, Pinot Noir. For three days, Pinot Noir lovers attend seminars, lunches, dinners and grand tastings, all of which feature Pinot Noirs from around the world.

Pinot Noir from Two Hemispheres

While Pinot Noir is the common element, as I sat down for a seminar with wines from Brewer Clifton, located in the Santa Ynez Valley in California, and Giant Steps, located in the Yarra Valley in Australia, I was curious what connected these two wineries from two different regions from across the world.

I was not the only one. Winemaker Greg Brewer, who led the seminar, immediately explained: “On paper, these two wineries show tremendous differences. But there is a link.” While these two wineries are a hemisphere apart, as well as a season apart, he said, there is a kinship between these two wineries. They are two wineries that reflect a true sense of place and are “love letters” to their respective regions.

Pinot Noir from Two Hemispheres

Giant Steps, Yarra Valley, Australia

Pinot Noir is not what most people think of when they think of Australian wine. But beyond the Barossa Valley, Tasmania and the Yarra Valley have climates suited for growing Pinot Noir. The Yarra Valley, located an hour north of Melbourne, is one of Australia’s coolest wine regions. It has a continental climate with rolling hillsides that offer varying altitudes, resulting in different microclimates. With regards to soils, the Yarra Valley has grey-brown sandy loam on the northern side and younger, red volcanic soil on the southern side.

Giant Steps was founded in 1997 by Phil Sexton, a jazz fan who named the winery after John Coltrane’s album “Giant Steps.” Working in a gravity flow winery, Giant Steps takes a minimal intervention approach to winemaking. The focus is on producing six single-vineyard wines with delicate restraint and focused energy that reflect the cool climate of the Yarra Valley.

Giant Steps 2020 Primavera Vineyard Pinot Noir – The Primavera Vineyard is a high elevation vineyard with red clay loam soils that was planted in 2001. The grapes are fermented whole cluster resulting in an earthy wine with a perfume of floral potpourri.

Giant Steps 2020 Applejack Vineyard Pinot Noir – Planted in the upper Yarra Valley in 1997, the Applejack Vineyard with its volcanic soils, sits at a high elevation that results in an extended growing season. Richer than the Primavera, this wine has aromas of cranberry and earth with a crunchy, juicy acidity.

Giant Steps 2020 Sexton Vineyard – Sourced from a vineyard in the lower Yarra Valley that was planted by Phil Sexton in 1990s, the soils are shallow gravelly loams above a tough, rocky clay base. This wine has the most intensity of color as well as deeper fruit and spice notes and bold acidity.

Giant Steps 2021 – A blend of the six single vineyards, this lively wine is very vibrant and fresh with primary red fruit aromas and a crunchy stemminess.

Pinot Noir from Two Hemispheres

Brewer-Clifton, Sta. Rita Hills, California

Only 16 miles from the Pacific Ocean, the Sta. Rita Hills AVA sits on the western side of the Santa Ynez Valley. The hills run east to west, allowing the cool ocean breezes and fog from the Pacific Ocean to enter the valley. The soils in the Sta. Rita Hills consist of sandy loams, silt loams and clay loams, as well as marine deposits.

Brewer-Clifton was created by Greg Brewer and Steve Clifton in 1996. The focus of Brewer-Clifton wines is to reflect the geographic, geologic and climatic uniqueness of the Sta. Rita Hills. The approach is to take a low-intervention approach, use neutral barrels, whole cluster fermentation and stem inclusion to wines express the vineyards.

Brewer-Clifton 2020 3D Pinot Noir – Planted in 2007 on the eastern side of the Sta. Rita Hills appellation, 3D is a 13-acre vineyard with sandy soils. It is just a touch warmer at this vineyard, which is only three miles from the Machado vineyard. The clones are Swan and Pommard, and the wine is 100% whole cluster which lifts up the fruit component. Aromas of cherry and earth and notes of stemminess, this wine has a lot of meatiness and a lovely texture.

Brewer-Clifton 2020 Machado Pinot Noir – Planted in 2008 to Clone 37 (Merry Edwards) and Clone 459 from Jura, the vineyard has richer soils that result in a wine with more depth, lots of spice notes, and a mouthwatering finish.

Brewer-Clifton 2020 Hapgood Pinot Noir – Located 15 miles from the ocean, this is a super cold vineyard with very sandy soils. The resulting wine has aromas of cherry saltwater taffy and a green spice on the finish.

Brewer-Clifton 2021 Sta Rita Hills Pinot Noir – A blend of four vineyards, this wine is 90% whole cluster aged in 15–20-year-old barrels. The wine has notes of ripe red berries, spice, and minerality.

Tasting these wines, the single vineyard wines expressed the vineyards they came from, and the blends offer a portrait of the region. Giant Steps wines are vibrant and electric. Next to them, the Brewer Clifton wines seemed bigger in style. However, they are also expressive with lifted freshness. These wines are pure expressions of their regions.

The variety (Pinot Noir) is the same, but they come from different landscapes and are made following different protocols. But they both have an intentionality of transparence and reflect a true sense of place. Giant Steps and Brewer Clifton are “love letters” to their respective regions. This is what connects these two wineries.

Read the original story in the Napa Valley Register.